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Early Childhood Services in North Dakota

Early Childhood Services Rule Books

Licensed Family Child Care Providers
Licensed Group Child Care Providers
Licensed Child Care Centers
Licensed Preschool Programs
Licensed School-Age Programs
Licensed Self-Declaration Providers

Licensing Information and Regulations

North Dakota law (NDCC 50-11.1) requires the Department of Human Services to administer the licensure of Early Childhood Services (child care) and authorizes the Department to develop standards to regulate child care settings.

Licensing is one form of consumer protection. Licensed child care offers parents the knowledge that providers are regulated through standards and monitoring. Parents are encouraged to notify the county or state of any concerns.

Child care licensing regulations are designed to protect and promote child safety and well-being in child care settings. Licensed child care providers are required to maintain at least minimum standards related to:

  • physical size of the facility
  • safety features
  • cleanliness
  • staff qualifications, including training and background checks
  • staff-to-child ratios

Licensed providers can participate in the Child Care Assistance Program, if they care for children who qualify for this program, and the USDA Food Program.

County social service offices conduct the licensing studies and investigations. The county's review and recommendations are forwarded to the regional office, which issues or denies licenses. All licensed facilities receive two review visits per year. One visit is unannounced.

Complaints are investigated by on-site reviews conducted by county social services. When county staff find a violation, the following actions could be taken against a licensed provider:

  • correction order
  • revocation
  • suspension
  • injunction
  • fiscal sanction

A county social service office is a provider’s first point of contact with questions about the licensing system. They are also a resource to parents who have a concern about their provider or who wish to request a summary of a provider’s licensing history.

Learn about criminal fingerprint-based background check requirements.

Child Care Aware of North Dakota offers help in starting a licensed child care program. You can locate step-by-step guides and learn about the required state paperwork needed to become a licensed child care provider.

Licensed Child Care Provider Categories

  • Licensed Family Child Care: Family providers may care for up to 7 children with no more than 3 under the age of 24 months, plus two additional school-age children.
  • Licensed Group Child Care: Group child care programs may be licensed in a home or a facility. Groups may be licensed for up to 30 children, with the actual license capacity determined by available space, staff to child ratios, and sometimes local ordinances.
  • Licensed Child Care Center: Child care centers are licensed for at least 19 children in a facility, with the actual license capacity determined by available space, staff to child ratios, and sometimes local ordinances.
  • Licensed Preschools: Preschools provide educational and socialization experiences for children age 2 years to kindergarten and may operate sessions for no more than 3 hours per day.
  • Licensed School-Age Programs: School-age programs are licensed for at least 19 children in a facility, with the actual license capacity determined by available space, staff to child ratios, and sometimes local ordinances. School-age programs offer services before and after school, and sometimes on school holidays and through the summer months.
  • Multiple License Facility: This type of program has more than one type of license, such as a center and preschool.

Unlicensed Child Care Provider Categories

  • Self-declared Providers: Care for 5 or fewer children or 3 infants a home. These providers must meet some minimal standards, including a background check and basic health and safety training, are inspected prior to approval, and receive one monitoring visit per year. Self-declared providers are eligible to participate in the Child Care Assistance Program and the USDA Food program. Individuals wishing to apply for a self-declaration should contact their county social service office.
  • Approved Relatives: Care for 5 or fewer children or 3 infants; are also eligible to participate in the Child Care Assistance Program. By federal law, the 'approved' relatives must be related by marriage, blood relationship or court order and include: grandparents, great-grandparents, aunts, and uncles. A sibling who is age 18 or older and who does not live in the same home as the children for whom care is being provided, can also become an approved relative. All adults living in the home are checked against the "North Dakota Office of Attorney General, Convicted Sex Offenders and Offenders Against Children-Public List." Approved relative providers and adult household members receive a background check. These providers are not monitored.
  • Registered Providers: are also eligible to participate in the Child Care Assistance Program; are generally registered by Tribal entities.

Illegal Care

An unlicensed provider caring for more than three infants or six or more children (of mixed ages) is operating against the law and may be charged with a Class B Misdemeanor.

Child Care Licensure Regulations

The National Resource Center for Health and Safety in Child Care provides information about child care licensure regulations in North Dakota and for all states. It is important to note that sometimes local ordinances exceed state licensing standards. Your city’s building and zoning departments may have additional information for you.


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